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2014-07-16 / Front Page

The National Pastime in the Eastern Upper Peninsula

by Jim Dwyer

Newberry’s baseball team of 1915 
from the Jim Dwyer collection Newberry’s baseball team of 1915 from the Jim Dwyer collection Part two of a three-part series

In those days almost all longdistance travel was by passenger train. Autos gradually became a more practical mode of transportation. One account notes that the wives of the Upper Peninsula Hospital for the Ins ane ( UPH) pl aye r s weren’t happy with the inebriated players upon their arrival home by train after a game in the Soo.

The “ greatest game ever played in the Upper Peninsula” was between the 1904 Sault semi-pro team and Lake Linden.

Eddie Cicotte and an opposing hurler pitched a scoreless tie through 13 innings. The game was suspended when Lake Linden had to leave to catch the evening train.

There were many intriguing matchups, ranging from annual events to several-times-a-year battles. One of those was when the UPH in Newberry hosted touring Negro League teams as early as 1901.

“ Barnstorming” Negro League teams such as the Chicago Unions and Royal Tigers played eastern U. P. teams during the weekdays and at home on the weekends.

A Newberry News headline of July 1, 1901, read: “Chicago Unions Defeat the U.P. Hospital Players.”

“The Chicago Unions defeated the U. P. Hospital in two games of baseball Monday and Tuesday. Monday’s game was a ragged exhibition, the Unions smashing the ball whenever they pleased. When the agony was all over, the score stood 24 to 9 in favor of the colored players.

“Tuesday’s game was a far better exhibition of the sport, the Hospital players having pulled themselves together [and] put up a better article of ball.”

Another traveling baseball team was the Boston Bloomers, which was advertised as “the best women’s team in the country.” An account of a game in the small town of Cheboygan noted that 1,200 fans were present. Likewise, they drew hundreds of fans in the Soo and Newberry. Another “colorful sounding” entity that “barnstormed” through the U.P. was the Elkhart (Indiana) Blue Sox.

The ballfields were generally awful in terms of being full of rocks and in poor condition. In a June 9, 1905 Newberry game at Munising, the field was blamed for two “scratch” hits by Munising that won the game for them. “The Munising outfield was, as one fan puts it, a white sand plain, dotted with stumps.”

Another routine element addressed was the fairness of the umpire and how the visiting teams were treated by the home team and fans. After the Munising game, “the boys were royally received by the Munising fans and have nothing but praise for their treatment.” Visiting teams were often hosted at dancing parties on those evenings.

There was an annual contest between the Fats and the Leans in Newberry. Another annual battle was the East Side Merchants playing the West Side Merchants. A look at a roster from the early 1900s shows 30 players on each team. Presuma bly, only nine at a time played.

In a 28 to 18 loss, the West Side accused the East Side of cheating, as they used a “real ballplayer” to pitch against them.

Prior to the Fats/Leans’ 1909 game, players formed up in line behind the Newberry band. They paraded the principal streets on their way to the ballp ark. An ambulance and stretcher borne by Red Cross nurses was included at the end of the parade. When the Fats lost, the newspaper accounts would describe their inability to run fast, being out of breath, etc.

In addition to the UPH team, there was a Newberry team, and they were clearly each other’s archrival. The UPH was a community in itself, as most employees were required to live there and work seven days a week.

Eastern U.P. teams ranged as far west as the “Copper Country.” The most frequent contests were between the Soo and Newberry and among local entities. The Soo had several teams, including ones from Fort Brady. They also played the Newberry teams.

End of Part Two

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